NEWAYGO - Multiple times a week, you can find Jeff Greene in a collared shirt and gray pants at a baseball diamond. That’s the way it’s been for 50 years now.
“I’ve got three passions in life; bluegills, baseball and bird dogs,” said Greene with a smile.
Greene, 78, is an avid fisherman and proud dog owner who started umpiring Little League in the 1970s and has never looked back.
“It’s hard to remember 50 years ago but I started with Little League and I was a coach and then ‘hey can you umpire a couple games? Then I did a couple JV baseball games and kind of got to like it.”
Greene’s passion for umpiring is a result of much more than just calling balls and strikes. It’s the camaraderie with other umpires and the connection with coaches and players that keeps him coming back year after year.
Being an umpire can be a thankless job with a lot of people mad at you on a given night, but Greene said he likes to focus on the kindness and good sportsmanship he sees every day.
“I look for the positives of umpiring,” he said. “I think I’ve written more positive reports about good sportsmanship and leadership in the last 20 years than anyone else in the state.”
Greene has worked in three parts of the state over his 50-year umpiring career. He got his start in the Indian River area before moving to Jackson and currently umpires in the Big Rapids area.
For an MHSAA umpire, getting tapped to work a state championship game is a huge honor. Greene has reached that pinnacle on two occasions.
“People have a goal of doing the state finals. I got to do a state final in Jackson and I got to do a state final in Big Rapids, 200 miles apart,” Greene said. “That’s not easy to do but I’m just an average umpire so I feel honored to be able to do that.”
Greene’s commitment and passion for umpiring is refreshing in a time when the MHSAA is struggling with a shortage of officials.
“There is a shortage,” Greene said. “I had a JV game in Mt. Pleasant [Monday] night all by myself. A 78-year-old man doing two games by himself? That’s not good.”
Greene said he hopes more young people realize what a great part-time job umpiring can be.
“For a college student it’s a great part-time job,” he said. “They work around your classes, you can do middle school games with very little fans yelling at you. So I always thought for college kids that umpiring is a really good part-time job.”
It may be a good job for a college student but it also still suits Greene just fine at age 78. In year 50 behind the plate, Greene is still going strong.
After all, baseball is one of his three passions.